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Deep pockets and short arms

 

High-technology companies, the saying goes, have deep pockets and short arms. That, at least, is how Silicon Valley is known to political campaign fund-raisers.

A $150 billion industry by some estimates, high technology donated a statistically negligible amount of money to this year's presidential campaigns. A breakdown of technology company contributions requested by CNET showed that from January 1995 to June 1996, computer service and equipment companies gave a total of $223,200 to the election campaigns of President Clinton and Republican challenger Bob Dole.

By contrast, law and lobbying firms donated more than $5.9 million and the securities industry $5.5 million, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that monitors campaign contributions Clinton table / Dole table.

"Traditionally, the valley has not gotten involved in politics in that way. It's like drawing blood from a stone," said Mike Engelhardt, government affairs manager at Sybase. "It's partly philosophical, the nature of the culture of engineers."

Technology executives make no apologies for their political frugality, saying they believe in supporting candidates and campaigns on an issue-by-issue basis, depending on the needs of the moment in the lightyear-fast pace of the industry.

There is also a practical reason for their financial abstention. Many technology companies, especially PC and other hardware manufacturers, traditionally run on exceptionally thin profit margins and have less disposable income than their counterparts in other industries.

"They have worked so hard and been so focused that it's hard for them to understand that this political process has a breadth so much greater than Silicon Valley," said Amber Henninger, campaign manager for Representative Tom Campbell (R-California). "These CEOs are used to saying, 'I want that chip changed by next Friday,' and it is changed."

Not one high-tech company made the list of the top 50 contributors to either Clinton or Dole. The top contributor to both campaigns, accounting firm Ernst and Young, gave $135,750 to Clinton and $107,650 to Dole--more money than the entire high-tech industry combined. Dell Computer, which reported $5.3 billion in revenues last year, gave a whopping $250 to the Dole campaign. Apple Computer came up with $250 for Dole and nothing for Clinton. Novell beat them both with $750 for the Democratic ticket.

The figures also produced some interesting dichotomies. Oracle employees gave nothing to Clinton but contributed $4,000 for Dole, even though company president and CEO Larry Ellison spoke at the Democratic convention in Chicago last week. (Ellison has yet to formally endorse any presidential candidate.)

The list, part of a larger study of all U.S. industries, was based on a review of about 61,000 contributions of $200 or more that were donated through political action committees, company officers, or employees and their families filed with the Federal Election Commission in reports released July 1. Federal election laws forbid corporations from contributing directly to campaigns and limit individual donations to $1,000 per candidate for each election.

To avoid the contribution limit, many donors also give through corporate or single-issue political action committees (PACs), which in turn give money to candidates who support their interests. The total amount an individual may give to national candidates, parties, and PACs combined is limited to $25,000 per year. Of the 61 computer service and equipment companies that gave to the Clinton reelection campaign, not one donated through a political action committee. Of 58 companies that gave to Dole, only two, Computer Sciences and Storage Technology, gave through a PAC. Each company gave $1,000.

Candidates also receive donations in what is known as "soft money." Such contributions, made to a political party to be used only for "party-building" activities such as get-out-the-vote drives, are not limited by federal law. In reality, soft money pays for overhead and other behind-the-scenes expenses, freeing up other party funds to support candidates. Contributors identifying themselves with the following companies donated to the Clinton campaign from January 1995 through mid-1996. The contributors were selected because they receive at least 15 percent of their revenues from computer-related businesses and products, including components, accessories, data processors, software, and programming. Companies themselves are forbidden by law from contributing directly to political campaigns.

1996 Election Contributions to Clinton from the Computer, Equipment and Services Industry

CompanyContribution
ADP$1,000
Acxiom$2,000
Advanced Micro Devices$1,000
Airsep $4,000
Amcom Business Centers$1,000
American Computer$1,000
American International Data$1,000
Apache Medical Systems$1,000
Applied Language Technologies$2,000
Arkansas Systems$2,000
Aspen Systems$1,500
Astro Research$1,500
Bamsi$1,000
Basye Consulting Group$1,000
Budgeting Technology$1,000
Business Software Alliance$1,000
Business Service$1,000
Caci $750
Chesapeake Interlink$1,000
Computer & Communication$1,000
Computer Analyst$900
Computer Consultant$2,500
Computer Data Systems$1,000
Computer Expert$1,000
Corabi International Telemetrics$1,000
Cullinane Group$1,000
EDS $1,000
Excelsior Software $1,000
Future Tech International$22,000
Hewlett-Packard$2,200
Hitachi Data Systems$500
IBM $1,250
Imagination Pilots Entertainment$6,000
Information America$1,000
Ingram Industries$1,000
Integrated Business Solutions$1,000
Integrated Systems$2,000
Intel$250
International Rectifier$3,000
Interplay Productions$2,000
Intouch Group $1,000
Microsoft $9,000
National Semiconductor$300
National Systems & Research$2,000
Novell $750
PDX $500
Powersoft$2,000
Programmer$450
Realtime Computer$1,000
Robbins-Giola $500
Software$2,000
Software Developer$1,000
Software Publishers Association$250
Software Specialties$500
Software USA$1,000
Standard Technology$1,000
US Robotics$1,000
Unisys$750
Vernier Software$250
TOTAL$120,100
Contributors identifying themselves with the following companies donated to the Dole campaign from January 1995 through mid-1996. The contributors were selected because they receive at least 15 percent of their revenues from computer-related businesses and products, including components, accessories, data processors, software, and programming. Companies themselves are forbidden by law from contributing directly to political campaigns.

1996 Election Contributions to Dole from the Computer, Equipment and Services Industry

CompanyContribution
ADP$1,000
ALR Systems & Software $250
Access Systems$2,000
Advanced Med Tech Association$1,000
Advanced Micro Devices$1,000
American Superconductor$1,000
Automatic Data Processing$1,000
CEA$2,000
CGI Systems$500
CMSI Software$1,000
Cabletron Systems$9,000
Collmer Semiconductor $1,000
Comdisco $1,000
Compaq Computer$3,000
Computer Assc$250
Computer Consultant$1,000
Computer Design$1,000
Computer Intelligence $2,000
Computer Language Research$1,000
Computer Sciences $1,500
Correa Enterprises$1,000
Cree Research $1,000
DBA Systems$1,000
Dell Computer$250
Delta Tau Data Systems$2,000
Deltek Systems$1,000
Direct Connect $500
EDS $3,000
EMC $2,000
Epsilon Data Management$500
First Data Resource$1,500
Flexi Intl Software$2,500
Hewlett-Packard$1,250
Hitachi Data Systems$1,000
IBM $1,750
Intel $1,000
LA Dorn Systems $2,000
LSI Logic $2,600
Management Services $2,000
Metters Industries $1,000
Microsoft $2,250
National Data $1,000
Northstar Systems$2,000
Office Systems Service$2,000
Oracle $4,000
Perot Systems $2,500
Printronix $1,000
Read-Rite $200
Rothe Development $250
Science Applications International$1,250
Sterling Software $4,000
Storage Technology $3,500
Sun Microsystems$1,000
Sysorex Info$1,000
US Order$1,000
Unisys $2,000
VCS $3,000
TOTAL$123,100